Boris Johnson has admitted there were things the government “could have done differently” in its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
In a marked shift in tone, the Prime Minister conceded that lessons could be learned from the early stages of the pandemic.
And he admitted that the government did not “understand [the virus]in the way that we would have liked in the first few weeks and months.”
Mr Johnson told BBC News: “Maybe there were things we could have done differently and of course there will be time to understand what exactly we could have done, or done differently.
“When you listen to the scientists, the questions that you’ve asked are actually very open questions as far as they are concerned.
“And there will be a time obviously to consider all those issues.”
The Prime Minister said the government had failed to understand the deadly virus in the “first few weeks and months”.
He said: “I think probably, the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which it was being transmitted asymptomatically from person to person.
“I think it’s fair to say that there are things that we need to learn about how we handled it in the early stages… there will be plenty of opportunities to learn the lessons of what happened.”
But he would not be drawn on any specific blunders, such as lack of protective kit for frontline staff and the chaotic testing regime, which have been highlighted by critics.
Mr Johnson denied that lockdown had come too late – despite several of the government’s own scientific advisers saying that the UK’s death toll could have been lower if restrictions had come sooner.
“No, on the contrary, no, if you look at the timing of every single piece of advice that we got from our advisers, from Sage, you will find that whenever they said that we needed to take a particular step, actually, we stuck to that advice like glue,” Mr Johnson said.
Labour said the Prime Minister “has finally admitted the Government has mishandled its response to the coronavirus”.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This finally puts to bed the Prime Minister’s previous claim his Government ‘took the right decisions at the right time’.”
He added: “It was too slow to acknowledge the threat of the virus, too slow to enter lockdown and too slow to take this crisis seriously.
“The threat of a second wave is still very real.
“It is imperative the Government learns the lessons of its mistakes so we can help to save lives.”
Liberal Democrat acting leader Ed Davey said the comments proved the need for an immediate inquiry into the pandemic.
He added: “The Prime Minister and his Government must be faced with the reality of where they went wrong, so that they can learn from their mistakes which have led to tragic consequences.”